Not Frugal Friday — American Airlines First Class

American Airlines First Class -- Champagne

Are you looking for vegetarian food on American Airlines in first/business class?  Well you’re in luck, sort of.  As I recently mentioned, when you fly cross-country in a premium cabin, you can pre-select your entree, and there is typically (at least the four times I’ve selected an entree) a vegetarian option.  So far so good.  But, selecting a vegetarian entree and getting a vegetarian meal are two different things, because the first course is typically not vegetarian.  don’t learn from my mistakes, I forgot to request a vegetarian meal the next time I flew AA as well.  So here, combined, are my two reviews.  Surprisingly, even though I was flying the exact same flight (AA 85, JFK-SFO), the meal was a lot better the second time.I couldn’t decide if I should post this under “Frugal Friday”.  In a sense, the meal was “free”, in that I didn’t pay extra for it.  But getting into first or business class doesn’t come cheap (whether in terms of burning dollars, miles, or upgrades), so you are paying for the meal in a very real sense.

Seriously, plastic cups?

Seriously, plastic cups?

Both times I took this flight, I was offered a pre-departure drink, and both times, I opted for the champagne.  I don’t know what they were pouring on the first trip, but the second time around, it was Gloria Ferrer, which is probably my favorite domestic “champagne”.  I am still disappointed, though, that AA serves its pre-departure drink in a plastic cup.  Maybe things will be nicer on their new 77Ws.  (The picture at the top of the post is after takeoff; the pre-departure drinks were still in plastic.)

American Airlines First Class -- Salad and shrimpBoth meals started with a salad and some non-vegetarian stuff.  The first time around, I had a romaine salad with shrimp on the side.  Obviously I didn’t eat the shrimp, and the romaine was cold and bland. 

A much better salad.

A much better salad.

The second time, I had a mixed greens salad with artichoke, mushroom, and peas.  (There was chicken on the side, which I again skipped over.  The flight attendant told me she had been a vegetarian longer than I’d been alive, which I thought was amusing.)  This salad was much better.  The greens were livelier, the peas were vibrant — at least, as vibrant as it gets on an airplane, and the mushroom and artichoke added some variety.  Sure, there was only one piece of sliced mushroom and a single artichoke, but still, it was better than last time.  The focaccia bread (upper left) was good too.

Thoroughly unimpressive.

Thoroughly unimpressive.

On both flights, I had a pasta.  The first time around, I had a cheese ravioli.  It was thoroughly unimpressive.  The ravioli were stacked in a bowl, and the entire bowl of ravioli just had one texture.  It was as if there was no difference between the pasta and the filling.  My fork went straight to the bottom, and everything tasted like a creamy, goopy mess.  Bleh.

A much better pasta.

A much better pasta.

The most recent time, nearly identical ingredients (pasta, cheese, sauce) were repackaged in a much better way.  The manicotti, or whatever it was called, was filled with cheese and spinach; the spinach alone was an improvement over last time.  The pasta was not earth-shattering, but it at least had some heft to it and provided a backdrop for the filling.  The sauce was flavorful and actually went well with the focaccia.

Around this point I’ll pause and just mention something I find weird about the AA premium cabin flights.  Because AA doesn’t have personal A/V systems on these flights, they instead give you a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, pre-loaded with some movies, TV shows, games, etc.  This isn’t a bad idea, but the tablet comes in a fairly bulky case, with a hefty power adapter, so all in all it is quite cumbersome to manage.

Funny movie.

Funny movie.

Serious movie.

Serious movie.

American Airlines is known for its sundaes, so I had a hot fudge sundae with strawberries and walnuts both times.

Can't go wrong.

Can’t go wrong.

I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of ice cream, so I ate hardly any of it either time.  I’ve noticed that the “custom made” sundae has become sort of the go-to dessert in premium cabins on domestic airlines.  I think it’s because it looks classy without costing all that much more money.

American Airlines First Class -- Ice cream.On the first flight, my pre-landing snack was a “baked on board” cookie.  This sounds nice (actually Midwest Airlines made this famous, and they served them throughout the airplane, not just up front), but it was way too sweet and actually kind of gross.  I think it was just that it had way too much sugar.

Not very good.

Not very good.

By contrast, AA added a healthy option the second time, with a fresh fruit bowl.  The fruit were not amazing – nothing more impressive than what you’d find ar the continental breakfast at a mediocre conference center – but at least it was lighter and healthier than the cookie.  This isn’t to say they cut out the cookie entirely—they offered chocolate cookies or oatmeal cranberry on the second flight, served this time with a glass of milk!—but I took a pass.

Before I wrap up, just some thoughts on the experience on AA generally.  On certain transcontinental flights (typically a 767-300), AA flies in a two-cabin configuration with “First” and economy class.  That’s what AA 85 is.  The seats are angled-flat and reasonably comfortable, especially if you’re not trying to sleep.  The “new American” — complete with new logo — after it merges with US Airways, has some spiffy new aircraft on the way.

Will they get new mugs?

Will they get new mugs?

But those spiffy new aircraft (mostly) aren’t here yet.  In the meantime, AA is flying birds that don’t match up to the competition.  For example, on the redeye, AA 18, returning from SFO, AA flies a 767-200 in a three-cabin configuration.  Business class seats on that airplane have manual controls.

Really??

Really??

The seats are not very comfortable for seating.  Both Delta’s BusinessElite “cradle” seats and United’s Business p.s. seats blow it out of the water.  And both Delta and United offer amenity kits on the transcontinental routes, but American doesn’t.  All in all, it looks like American is poised to seriously upgrade its product, but in the meantime, it lags the competition.

So what’s the verdict?  This was a good meal, but nothing extra-impressive.  The pasta on the second flight was actually among the better entrees I’ve had on flights recently, but everything else seemed pretty basic and on par with the competition; nothing stood out.  The second meal, though, was definitely better than the first.  If you’re flying in first or business class on American Airlines, you can rest assured that one of the meal choices will be vegetarian, even if you haven’t selected a vegetarian meal in advance.  That, however, is no guarantee about quality—so far in my experience, it’s hit or miss.

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3 Responses to Not Frugal Friday — American Airlines First Class

  1. foosion says:

    I find the vegetarian special meals on most airlines, including AA, to be generally tasteless. Unless I know there won’t be a vegetarian option on the regular, I rarely order a special vegetarian meal. Spending a few dollars on food at the airport (or picking up stuff from the airline lounge) is often a better option than the special meal.

    What’s your view?

    • withoutbacon says:

      That’s a pretty good point. I have had good food on flights before — the pasta on the second flight was actually pretty good, and I’ve had good food flying internationally (at least in premium cabins). In coach, I definitely agree. I was just traveling overseas where you still get “free” food in coach, which consists of a terrible (and not vegetarian) sandwich. I’d much rather even pay $8 on board for a box of hummus, chips, etc. I’m definitely surprised, though, at the mediocre food in business/first class.

  2. Pingback: LAN Business Class JFK-LIM | Without Bacon: The Herbivore's Dilemma

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